Al Shabab tests Kenya, Uganda resolve

July 17, 2010 12:00 am

, MOGADISHU, Jul 17 – Deadly attacks in Kampala turned the battle for Mogadishu into a regional affair this week, with the Shebab warning the world to stay out and Uganda urging more support from its neighbours.

Somalia\’s Al Qaeda-inspired rebels struck the Ugandan capital on July 11, killing at least 73 people watching the World Cup final in multiple blasts, in what they said was retaliation for Uganda\’s military presence in Mogadishu.

But far from being bullied into pulling out of the African force (AMISOM) it spearheads, Uganda called for steelier regional resolve to crush the Shebab-led insurgency and rescue Somalia\’s beleaguered transitional government.

"We were just in Mogadishu to guard the port, the airport and the State House. Now they have mobilised us to look for them," Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said in the aftermath of the blasts.

The Ugandan army said it was ready to provide 2,000 troops to top the more than 3,000 it has deployed in Mogadishu since 2007 and bring AMISOM to its full authorised strength of 8,100.

"We are capable of providing the required force if other countries fail to do so," army spokesman Felix Kulayigye told AFP.

The regional body IGAD had earlier this month pledged to send the missing 2,000 troops in a bid to enable AMISOM to withstand an insurgent offensive threatening Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed\’s tenuous grip on power.

Few countries other than Uganda had looked likely to contribute to the force in one of the world\’s most dangerous cities, where AMISOM\’s Ugandan and Burundian troops have been struggling to repel the rebels.

Kulayigye called for lifting a rule preventing bordering countries from deploying that effectively rules out fellow IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) members Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

The African force is confined to a small perimeter in Mogadishu — where it protects the government\’s institution, the port and the airport — and conducts patrols and escort missions.

Uganda has conditioned the deployment of more troops on an amendment to AMISOM\’s mandate that would allow it to scale up from purely defensive measures to a more aggressive strategy.

The issue is likely to feature prominently when heads of state from the African Union\’s 53 member states gather in Kampala latter this month for the continental body\’s summit.

Sharif, whose job is hanging by a thread, has also argued that the Kampala attacks were evidence that the Shebab are no longer just a Somali problem and required a concerted effort by the international community.

"The international community has not done enough to stabilise Somalia in the past but we now expect it to help us overcome this problem," he told reporters Friday in Mogadishu.

The Shebab were jubilant after the bombings and their overall leader Mohamed Abdi Godane warned in an audio message that Kampala was "just the beginning".

"The Shebab has been seriously underestimated, it has falsely been seen as fragmented and weak," said Stig Jarle Hansen, a Norwegian academic and expert on Somalia.

Burundi, which also has close to 3,000 troops in Mogadishu, swiftly announced it was tightening security after the Shebab delivered on the first half of their promise to strike Uganda and Burundi.

Meanwhile investigators in Kampala were still trying to identify some of the victims and determine the exact circumstances of the attacks, notably whether or not any of the bombers were linked to homegrown groups.

And with Museveni throwing his hat back in the ring in February 2011 presidential polls, calls have also risen among Uganda\’s opposition for a withdrawal of Uganda\’s contingent.


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